The Name We Share

Post image for The Name We Share

March 18, 2012

What’s in a last name? Nothing really if you think of it as a mere collection of letters. Just the opposite though if you consider the effect of hearing it aloud. Upon hearing my name an image comes to mind: an anchor thrown from a fast-drifting boat snagging the bottom. It claims and holds my place in the world. Hearing it also flashes forth images of the people I love who share it. All this occurs to me after hearing my last name said over and over on the radio and reading it repeatedly in news accounts in the last three days. I can say that until now, no one with my last name — with all its one-syllable simplicity — has been a mass-murderer guilty of a war crime. Yes, I’m prematurely passing judgment on Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of slaughtering sixteen villagers in Afghanistan, twelve of them women and children. But his guilt appears a certainty.

Charges against ‘slay soldier’ Robert Bales expected within a week” was among the headlines in 2,670 references to the troubled man in Google’s news category when I first checked this morning. Thirty minutes later the number was 4,220. While I write an NPR reporter says “a lot has happened to Bales since 2007.” That understatement makes me think of myself, as trivial as my life has been compared to the soldier’s.

If the sergeant’s surname and mine was Smith, it would go in one ear and out the other, so to speak. No surprise, Smith is by far the most common last name in the United States. The 2000 U.S. Census found 2,376,206 Smiths. Bales ranked 2,550th with 13,028 occurrences. The infrequency of Bales lessened the odds of its link to something infamous until now. The inevitable question is whether Sgt. Bales and I are linked by blood. He was born in Norwood, Ohio, five miles from where I was born in Cincinnati. We both lived in Florida.

I’d rather not know anymore.

Comments on this entry are closed.